I’m one of those people who just doesn’t feel legit about something unless I’ve taken a class or read a book about it. This is especially so when it comes to my photography, even though photography is one of those things that you really do get better at the more you practice. Your eye develops. You get the hang of balancing ISO, aperture, and shutter speed to control light and depth of field. Knowing when to use a manual shooting mode or more automated settings. Plus, the feedback is instant now with digital cameras and social media.
For the last year or so, I’ve been wanting to develop my abilities for street photography. One small obstacle: I feel very uncomfortable taking pictures of strangers. So to get a better understanding and more comfortable with the style, I signed up for a street photography seminar a couple weeks ago, held at a local photography store/gallery.
I attended with a friend who is also a teacher and looking to improve her still photography skills as a way to develop as a film student. Adding a social element with a trusted friend was a good motivator. The night of the seminar we scheduled a day to go shooting together so we’d be sure to apply our new learning as soon as possible. The seminar itself was quite informal — about 10 people from all walks, gathered in a camera supply store drinking soft drinks and coffee, eating cookies, listening to a lecture from a fairly well-known street photographer. And there we were, the only ones with notebooks out and ready to write down everything we heard. We laughed at that and embraced our learning styles!
The presenter’s material was incredibly well-organized. Nearly all ideas were illustrated with example photographs. Even more bizarre, it was as if her presentation was based on all my own questions and anxieties. Apparently, my questions and concerns are not unique to me.
After 3 hours, I left with better understandings about the kinds of work that constitute street photography. I had strategies for very specific techniques including photographing complete strangers, more artistic ways of capturing architecture, and using shadow for dramatic effect. I left with knowledge about digital media rights, laws regarding creation and display of fine art, and, given the subject matter, some thinking about ethics. (The ethics material was not at all something I expected. Yet, given the subject, it made a lot of sense and completely held my attention given its relevance.)
Informal learning of this kind differs from formal learning in a few ways. One is its highly specific nature both in terms of goals and relevance. My goals were very specific and the seminar addressed only those goals. In addition, the material was something I would immediately apply in my art and it dealt with concepts I was ready to take on. Also, these kinds of learning events are short. It matters that the learning time was limited and the syllabus very specific. This differs from traditional learning settings where classes can run for months and cover a wide variety of subjects within some broader content area. This alone has me rethinking how I plan instruction and share or develop growth goals with learners.
Would anyone else have found the seminar of earth-shattering value? Probably not. But all the elements of the program addressed every one of very specific questions I had. Having answers gave me the confidence I lacked mere hours before. After so much formal learning I’ve encountered in my life, these kinds of events stand out as some of the most powerful learning experiences I’ve had.
Here’s some evidence of my learning.